Lede Family Wines Is 20 Years Old This Year
by Andrew Chalk
I first became aware of Lede Family Wines when I visited the flagship and original property, Cliff Lede Vineyards, in Napa’s Stags Leap District almost a decade ago. The wines were stellar. Nonetheless, my lasting memory was that all the vineyard plots were named after classic rock song titles. On a dry day you could walk from Whole Lotta Love to Dark Side of the Moon through I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. And these weren’t sponsorships, Cliff Lede found conventional block names “Block 1,...,Block 7…” boring, so he invented a better system.
Despite its callow youth, Lede Family Wines has been busy. There are now two wine brands (the other is FEL, standing for Florence Elsie Lede, Cliff’s mother), a five suite luxury hotel, Poetry Inn, whose name refrains the name of the flagship Lede wine -- Poetry, and a recent 50/50 partnership with Mas Doix winery in Priorat.
For customers, the Mas Doix partnership is too recent (2019) to affect their purchase decisions but Cliff Lede Vineyards and FEL are well established. The Lede team came to Dallas recently and presented the trade with current releases from both, and one library release from Cliff Lede Vineyards.
FEL draws fruit from Anderson Valley (although the winemaking facility is in Sonoma). Consistent with the terroir, pinot noir and chardonnay are the flagship wines. The Savoy Vineyard (purchased in 2011) is the benchmark vineyard. We tasted the FEL 2019 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley. It is a minerally, high acid, lean example of Chardonnay. Malolactic fermentation was extremely limited and aging occurred in neutral oak. This makes the wine Chablis-like in its crispness. Next, was the FEL 2018 Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley. The color was deep, ruby red. The nose exhibited a bewitching herbal aroma, very forward fruit of raspberry and cherry. On the palate those fruit were present but so was a bacon flavor. Overall, this was a very complex, pleasant and well-balanced wine.
Cliff Lede Vineyards
Next we moved south into Napa and the Stags Leap District for the Bordeaux blend wines that established the winery’s name. The Cliff Lede Vineyards 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District is a blend of 76% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 6% petit verdot, 3% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Aging was in French oak, 32% new for 21 months. The dominant cabernet sauvignon gives this Bordeaux blend its character. Complex dark fruit, an edge of greenness, the tannins are ‘polished’ in winemaker Christopher Tyman’s terms and make this a wine that is pleasant now or can be assigned to the cellar for several years.
The Cliff Lede Vineyards 2018 High Fidelity Red Wine, Napa Valley was the most merlot-intensive of the wines we tasted at 25% merlot. It also contained 50% cabernet franc so the blend might be described as that of a right bank wine in Bordeaux. The remainder was 23% cabernet sauvignon and 2% petit verdot. The flavors reflected the blend with notes of licorice, coffee and red currant. The name alludes to Lede’s musical interests again. However, the grapes come from further afield than just Stags Leap. The cabernet franc is from David Abreu’s Madrona Ranch.The cabernet sauvignon and merlot came from Lede’s Twin Peaks estate vineyard. Aging was in French oak, 66% new, for 22 months.
The Cliff Lede Vineyards 2018 Magic Nights Cabernet Sauvignon, Rock Block Series, Stags Leap District is an example of combining The Who’s Magic Bus parcel with The Moody Blues Nights in White Satin. Aging was in French oak, 80% new. Aromas and flavors of cassis, figs and medjool dates.
Finally, a library wine, and the flagship blend Cliff Lede Vineyards 2009 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District. This 77% cabernet sauvignon immediately distinguished itself from the other wines with a nose rich in tertiary components. Oak, cedar and dark fruit aromas, tannins that have markedly started to soften, and hints of pyrazines in the nose. The wine indicates how Stags Leaps wines can get better and better.
An impressive tasting indeed. One underlying trend is quite subtle. As Lede Family Wines evolves they are broadening their range of grape varieties. Bordeaux blends in Napa. Burgundy grape varieties in Anderson Valley. And, presumably, garnacha and cariñena in the forthcoming Priorat wines.